Sunday, July 28, 2013

Background information of Kaeng Sua Ten (Thailand)

The Kaeng Sua Ten Dam project, a 3.5 billion Baht project1, has been proposed for over 23 years and has faced fierce opposition among the local communities, specifically the Sa-iab village. The project aims to build a large dam on the Yom River, along a geological fault line that transcends three major fault lines in society, politics and economy[1]. The project was first cited as a hydroelectricity project, promising to generate 49 MW of electricity a year, during a time where Thailand has already domestically produced 140% it’s usage of electricity. Subsequently, the dam was promoted as an irrigation project, promising to allow farmers to be able to grow 2 or more cycle of crops each year. More recently, as a part of the political response to the flooding situation in Bangkok, the government has sold the dam project off as a necessity to prevent future floods in Bangkok. This recent development has pitted the villagers not only against the government, but also against the wider Thai society where they villagers are brandished as being backward and selfish. Besides the common accusation that the motivation behind the dam construction is that the government sees large dams as a sign of progress, there have also been accusation that potential kickbacks that officials and contracting companies stand to gain. It has been said that the 20% of the 3.5 billion Baht allocated for the project will never serve its intended purpose.

Over the years, many studies have been conducted, sanctioned by various parties – the Thai government, World Bank as well as NGOs. The viability of the large dam has been questioned and many studies have conducted that the costs far exceeds the benefits of the dam project[2]. In a particular study, simulations have revealed that the dam will only decrease flooding by 7%. Further, the study has also explained that the benefits presented by both irrigation and flood-prevention purposes are in conflict as one would require the reservoirs to be filled up while the latter would require the dam to be emptied. Among the many studies published, the reasons against the dam project have been summarized in this article[3]:

1) The project is not profitable
2) Inability to solve the drought problem
3) Cannot protect the flood in Yom river and Bangkok
4) Irrigation will not be effective
5) Large scale deforestation required
6) Damage eco-system downstream
7) The weight of the reservoir along the fault line may cause earthquakes
8) Cannot provide sufficient

With the viability of the dam being highly in doubt, the World Bank has since pulled out from the project but the Thai government is still adamant on going with the project and disregards the multiple studies published. Many studies have already been conducted; however the important way forward now is to ensure effective communication and participation of the villagers in the decision making process.

The villagers have been strongly against the development of the dam since their knowledge of the project back in 1991. In order to reach an acceptable compromise, in recent years, the villagers have thus proposed by the construction of multiple small water retention reservoirs instead. In what appears to be a sign of advancement over this 23 years long issue, the Water and Flood Management Commission (WFMC), led by Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi, has resolved to build two dams on the upper and lower Yom river along with 17 smaller water retention reservoirs[4]. This move is in-line with the Yingluck administration which has promised to find a viable alternative to the dam project that ensures the livelihood of the villagers will be preserved. Mr Plodprasop said that the new project will not be in conflict with the villagers main concerns – the teak forest will be preserved and the village need not relocate. The new project also has a decreased budget, at 1.3 million Baht, down from the original figure of 3.5 billion Baht for the large dam project. The deputy premier is also optimistic that the new project would face no opposition from the villagers. However, upon visiting the villages in the Phrae province, strong protests against the alternative project were still received.

Pi Bird, A member of the Forest Conservation Group and the Youth Group Coordinator at Donn Chai-Saktong, strongly opposed the alternative project, saying that the claimed smaller dams were actually not much smaller than the proposed Kaeng Sua Ten dam thus based on their research, the building of the 2 smaller dams would still call for deforestation and relocation of the villagers.

[1] "Local Participation and the Kaeng Sua Ten Dam Controversy." Mekong Info., 1997. Web. 6 July 2013. <>
[2] Lebel, Louis, Bach T. Sinh, Po Garden, Suong Seng, Le A. Tuan, and Duong V. Truc. "The Promise of Flood Protection: Dikes and Dams, Drains and Diversions." Institution, Knowledge and Power. Vietnam: Tho University, 283-305. Science Magazine Newsletter Tho University. Web. 6 July 2013. <>.
[3] "Kaeng Sua Ten Dam: 12 Reasons for Not Constructing the Dam." Thai Publica. Thai Publica, 3 Jan. 2013. Web. 7 July 2013. <>.
[4] "Govt Proposes Kaeng Sua Ten Alternative." Bangkok Post. Bangkok Post, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 6 July 2013. <>.

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